Modernizing Islamic Architecture For the Benefit of Architects in the Islamic world and Abroad

The book Title:

(The Islamic Architecture and its Specificities in Teaching Curricula)

Author name: Dr. Afif Bahnassi

Excerpts from the book : Chapter Two :

 Modernizing Islamic Architecture For the Benefit of Architects in the Islamic world and Abroad

sanaa city

A/ Authenticity and Modernity

A/1- Islamic architectural heritage is a civilisational treasure that needs to be preserved and studied. We must also explain its features and benefits and work towards completing its development so as to make it more suitable to the conditions of this age and its cultural plurality. Since architecture is the container of civilisation and reflects the cultural identity and the creative and aesthetic levels of man, it is necessary to adhere to its originality and stave off alien architectural invasions which have transformed the character of the Islamic city, and have made of it a cosmopolitan city without any identity or soul, severed from its roots, from its environment and from human beings.

A/2- Islamic architecture followed the move from large tents in the countryside to huts in villages, then to buildings and long-standing monuments in cities. During this movement, architecture conveyed original features which were compatible with man’s requirements, traditions and environment. It is regrettable that modern architecture has suddenly broken the link with this steady development – a break caused by the need for an easy and simple architectural style ushered into Islamic countries following the modernisation of the Western city.

A/3- Undoubtedly, the acceptance of Western architecture found its justification in the development of construction techniques. Such materials as iron, cement and glass entered into construction, plating, and ornamentation. Electricity played a big role in shifting the course of the development of architecture. Architecture has entirely depended on this new source of energy with respect to laying out light wires, constructing elevators or installing heating and ventilation pipes. These new innovations have become the most predominant and indispensable feature in architecture. In a modern building such as the Centre Pompidou in Paris, these innovations are obvious and they have even become a basic feature of architectural design itself.

A/4 – It has become clear that these technical innovations are dangerous for architecture as well as for human beings, who are getting more and more isolated from nature as long as this submission to the conditions of these techniques and the harm they cause increases. The costs of these techniques has gone up and they have become a burden on the city’s economy ; yet the city cannot dispense with them. Their absence can even hinder construction.

A/5- By making technical consumption a necessity, economic and investment policies have played a big role in using up our energies. It has become impossible to rationalise consumption in the face of huge buildings such as airports, hotels, and universities, equipped with super-developed techniques that consume great amounts of energy, which could have been saved for more productive projects. It is important to take advantage of modern techniques. What we criticise is the excessive use of these techniques to such a point that architecture becomes dependent on them.

A/6- The issue of modernity in architecture is associated with originality. Architecture seems to be more expressive of identity. The modernisation of architecture should not imply forsaking cultural identity, especially if this identity is reflected through sublime religious values and authentic heritage. The association of modernity with identity is not difficult. Even Western modernity yearns today to return to its roots.

B/ The Fate of Modernity

B/1- Modernity in Western architecture has reached an excessive degree in breaking links with traditions, nature and human beings ; the modern city has been metamorphosed into a group of abstract architectural blocks. External architecture has lost its traditional character which marked it in Europe from the Classical Eras to Renaissance, to the Baroque, to Neo-classicism and the Victorian age. A new trend, however, has appeared which calls for a return to identity, to the architectural forms that are in harmony with the cultural and human environment. This new trend calls equally for the nourishment of the historical memory which determines architectural identity both as form and as creativity. Architects now say that a house is a social and architectural unit that does not exist in a social vacuum. As such it fulfils three functions : meeting the others, cohabiting with them, and privacy. Life determines different architectural features according to time and place. The language of architecture is the language of memory. Philosopher Schultz  says: “Our age does not require a new language chosen from amongst authentic examples, which we freely interpret on the basis of various memories”. Interpretation here means disclosure of hidden relations more than it means a free creativity. Mies Van der Rohe, a German architect, says: “Architecture must comply with and serve life and should not impose anything on people and society”, thus justifying modernity which associated architecture with functionality. This is to say that architecture deviated from its authentic character and strayed into the world of invention and abstraction.

B/2- Modernist architecture broke indefinitely with the language of architecture, this historical language which has always expressed the concerns of human beings for whom it has been set up in the first place. Hence, modern architecture remains without a language and hence without identity, for  it is language that reflects identity. Critics found that modem architecture has got no identity and does not help man live in his social and historical environment. In the past, architecture expressed a national meaning ; nowadays it has, in the words of Heidegger, become “The house of being, of ‘ Zein’ “.

B/3- The neglect of the language of historical memory in modern architecture has prompted the architect to compensate for history by industrial incentives. Thus, modern architecture has become a hobby and a hazardous adventure. The slogans of modernity have become dogmatic.

B/4- The architect Jencks was the first to announce the end of modernity and to call for Post-Modernism. His call touched a sensitive chord in peoples’ feelings,  who were trying to find their cultural selves. The historian Toynbee coined the term “post-modern” in 1938 to point to globalisation and cultural pluralism as logical phases in the nature of the cyclical development of history. Opinions as to the definition of architectural post-modernism were numerous. But the common trend calls for associating the old with the new, i.e. authenticity with modernity. For it is not possible to call only for the revival of the old in a world where techniques are self-imposing. But with the old, we have several choices. This plurality of Post-Modern architecture makes architecture renewable and as varied as the various cultures that make up the world today.

B/5- It seems that the call for modernity and authenticity in Islamic architecture is consonant with the call for Post-Modernism. This blend sounded attractive to some Muslim architects, be they students or professors. They even subscribed to the views of philosophers and architects advocating Post-Modernism. And they did not go back to the views and applications found in the Islamic architectural tradition. Thus, they surrendered once more to dependency  and were deprived of the opportunity to convey their cultural identity in modern architecture which they erroneously took for Islamic architecture.

B/6- Muslim scholars were conscious of the gravity of the architectural dependency on the West. Ali Basha Mubarak (9) was the first to call attention to dependency in architecture. He said : ” People have followed the Rumi style in their buildings and abandoned the ancient style”. “When Europeans entered Egypt in droves, following the introduction of railways, the forms of buildings changed as each European tried to build his house according to the style used in his own country. Hence the sheer variety in the architectural styles used.” In fact, the propagation of the Western style goes back to the effects of colonisation and economic openness. The call for Westernisation was very effective in architecture. Officials and well-to-do people sent for foreign architects to construct their houses in all the Islamic countries. As a result, a style called ‘colonial’ came into being. This is the hybrid style, the buildings of which we still find in modern quarters of Islamic cities.

C/ Awareness of the Importance of Islamic Architecture.

C/1- The call for authenticity starts by awakening our historical awareness of  Islamic architecture. It is regretted that our architectural culture relies on studying Western architectural history more than it relies on Islamic architectural history. This is manifest in secondary school and university curricula which give importance to theories of international architecture without delving into Islamic architecture. This is ascribed to the great number of references about classical architecture (Greek and Roman), Christian architecture (Gothic, Romanesque and Byzantine), Renaissance architecture and after.

C/2- Although many archaeologists and  researchers took interest in Islamic architecture (10), the translation of their writings into Arabic and into the other languages of the Islamic countries came late.

C/3- Fortunately, a score of Muslim researchers have started to write about Islamic architecture or about the aesthetic and philosophical foundations of Islamic architecture and art (11).

C/4- Hope resides in the fact that Islamic architecture has begun to be taught as a subject in Higher Education Institutes in Asfahan and Cairo, etc. and that Islamic archaeology has become a specialisation itself. Awareness of the importance of Islamic architecture can be seen through the promotion of restoration operations. Archaological departments in Islamic countries began to preserve the architectural heritage in cities, districts and buildings.

The preservation of Yemeni historical cities such as Sanaa, Zebeïd and Shebam is considered a pilot operation in the field of architectural heritage protection.

Some scientific foundations encourage the protection of such cities through the awarding of prizes and compensations. Examples of such foundations are the Agha Khan Organisation in Boston, Arab Cities Organisation in Kuwait, the International Committee to preserve Islamic Cultural Heritage for Istanbul and Riyadh, and the Organisation of Islamic Cities and Capitals in Jeddah.

C/5- Certainly, the above-mentioned Islamic architecture features are the invariable that should be kept in modern architecture. Change and development should be confined to the requirements of modernity, which are as follows :

1- Taking advantage of new techniques (electronic and electrical)

2- Adapting to the planning style imposed by the automobile

3- Continuing the development of architecture and interior design and encouraging creativity in these fields.

Hence, modern Islamic architecture is based on invariable authentic elements. It is also grounded in variables (modernity elements). It is not easy to determine the elements of modernity which are continuously expanding and steadily increasing. Muslims must take advantage of these elements to infuse  Islamic architecture with new elements more suitable to the spirit of the age.

D/ Modernizing Architectural Design :

D/1- Creativity in the exterior as well as interior design is a characteristic of Islamic art which has always been marked by unity, variety and development.

Successive groups of styles symbolising freedom and creativity emerged in the world of Islamic art. Those styles were named after the political areas in which they occurred such as the Umayad, the Abasid, the Fatimid, the Andalusian, the Mogul, the Seljuk, the Safavid and the Ottoman. These styles are creative and not fixed orders as is the case with the Greek and Roman classical art. According to the Islamic concept of art, the ornamentation artist could invent unlimited styles that could become individual or collective schools as always happens in the plastic arts in general.

D/2- The attempt to develop exterior design requires going back to the history of this design starting from the rise of Islamic architecture so as to get acquainted with the design features of each age. This way we can detect the transformations that took place throughout the ages and in different countries, always from the perspective of the aesthetic unity that Islamic art enjoys.

D/3- The first architectural designs that appeared were derived from the designs that had existed in the land of  Islam. These designs were the source of inspiration for the artist in the Islamic era. Whether he embraced Islam or not, this artist transferred pre-Islamic architecture traditions to Islamic architecture. It is this artist himself who, whether before or after Islam, played the role of architect and builder, as he is heir to the prevailing architectural tradition. Arab Muslim conquerors did not bring the bases of an Islamic architecture with them. But it is Islamic thought which developed and spread among people a century later which served as a basis of a new creative and diversified architectural concepts. The development of Islamic thought went hand in hand with the appearance of an aesthetic thought in the works of Ikhwan Assafa, Al-Jahid, Attawhidi, Ibn Khaldun and others. In the Islamic East, Akbar, the Mogul Shah and his successors contributed to the development of aesthetic thought and architectural creativity.

E/ The Development of Islamic Architecture.

E/1- The Umayad took Damascus as their capital and ruled the first Muslim state. Throughout the Islamic empire which extended under the Umayads from China to Andalusia, there were architectural traditions, the most important of which were the Roman and the Byzantine which imposed their identity mainly through the Muslims’ reuse of such architectural features as pillars, lintels and cornices in the construction of the first mosques : AL-Aqsa Mosque, the Damascus Mosque, Al Qayrawan Mosque and the Cordoba Mosque.

E/2- The condition of prayer in these mosques was behind establishing a new concept of Islamic architecture that is different from former architecture in view of its different functions and its different doctrinal orientations. Thus appeared the minaret to supplant the belfry, the dome to symbolise the sky’s dome protecting believers and the mihrab as a space for ornaments and creativity. The walls of mosques were covered with marble and mosaic to hide the reused old stones.

E/3- Abdul Malik Ibn Marwan and his sons Al-Walid and Hisham were among the Muslim caliphs who cared most about architecture. Their monuments still exist in Damascus, Al-Quds, Diarbaker, Fustat and Qairouan. Their palaces still exist in Syria and Jordan : Al-hayr Al-Gharbi Palace, Al-Hayr Asharqi, Al-Mshatta Palace, the façade of which was transferred to the Berlin Museum, Al-Mafjar Palace near Jericho in Palestine, the Anjar Palace in  Lebanon, the ‘Amra Palace and Hamam Assarh in the Jordanian desert. The architectural features in palaces and mosques were arches, lintels and representational ornaments as is in Al-Hayr, Al-Mafjar and  Qusayr ‘Amra palaces. All the plaster engravings in Al-Mshatta palace and in other palaces and mosques were non- representational.

E/4- With the advent of the Abasids and until the fall of Baghdad at the hands of the Moguls 656 A.H (1258), the Islamic capital moved from Damascus to Baghdad. Islamic architecture in this era was characterised by variety due to political strife and division and to the Persian, Turkish and Jerkasi cultural supremacy which emerged with the Ikhshides, the Fatimids, the Salejuqs, the Atabeqids, the Ayyubids, the Mamluks, and finally the Ottomans, except the countries that were ruled by the Moguls and Safavids in the East and the Al-Moravids  and Al-Muhads and their successors in the Maghreb and Al-Andalus. History books relate the characteristics of each style as if it were the product of rulers and not of Muslim artists and handicraftsmen who used  their creative styles in accordance with their genius and according to the architectural traditions existing in their environment. The common feature between these artists is that they draw inspiration from their blessed religion. Art historians are still at a loss as to classifying Islamic architectural styles. Some adopt the geographical classification, others the political, and still others both the geographical and the political.

E/5- The development of Islamic architecture and ornamentation can be seen through the emergence of new styles, namely arches, domes and halls or through the appearance of merlons and Muqarnasat or still through the development of Arab calligraphy and arabesque engraved on woods, stones or minerals. This development was also displayed through the changes in the shape of the minaret, which became a basic feature of Islamic architecture. The first shape of the minaret was square as typified by the Syrian Minaret which emerged in the Umayad Mosque in Damascus. This style of minaret prevailed in North Africa and there are still examples of this style in Qairouan, in Marrakech (in the Kutubia Minaret), in Rabat (in the Hassan Minaret) and in Seville. The cylindrical minaret emerged later on in Asfahan and Bukhara. Then there developed the minaret with various balconies in Cairo and Damascus in the Mamluk and Abbasid eras. There also appeared the Ottoman minaret in the mosques of Istanbul, Aderne, Konia, and Bursa. These minarets resembled a spear launched to the sky.

E/6- The Mogul era was marked by the erection of huge mausoleums such as the Taj Mahal in Aghra and the Akbar Mausoleum. Safavid architecture was characterised by complex buildings as in the Shah Place in Asfahan. In Turkey, complex include a huge mosque, a school, a library and a sanctuary. Seljuki architecture was marked by the construction of gigantic schools.

F/ Development of Ornaments and Calligraphy

F/1- The ornaments that were portrayed on the interior walls, domes, mihrabs, minbars were made of mosaic, pottery, wood or stone. They were all non- representational because Islamic representational art was close to abstraction. This art did not prohibit representational depiction. Wall drawings and representational sculpture in Qusayr ‘Amra, Al-Hayer and Al-Mafjar palaces were proof that prohibition applied only when the artist tried to emulate the creator. Islamic aesthetic portrayal was based on “Arabesque”, a fancy ornamental pattern drawing on aster shapes with different forms and attractive colours, or an interpretation or abstraction of plants which no longer convey their specific characteristics. The first arabesque ornaments were depicted in the Dome of the Rock, in Al-Aqsa Mosque in Al-Quds and in the Great Umayad Mosque. These ornaments were stratified with small glass stones: lobars of the coloured mosaic which was commonly used in Syria in the pre-Islamic era. These mosaic drawings were carried out by local artists. The materials of the mosaic in Al-Quds were plants and were close to abstraction whereas the Umayad Mosque in Damascus reflected scenes of cities, orchards and bridges as well as plant ornaments. Historians say that Al-Walid Ibn Abdul Malik decorated the Prophet’s Mosque in Al-Medina with mosaics. Mosaics ornamentation moved to Andalus and appeared in some domes of the Cordoba Mosque.

In addition to mosques, palaces, especially Al-Mafjar Palace in Jericho, Palestine, teemed with mosaic floor pictures. Some of these pictures were geometrical and circular, others were realistic and showed an apple tree and beneath it a lion chasing a deer. In addition to mosaic, there was fresco pictures covering the walls of the Al-Hayer Al-Gharbi and Qusayr ‘Amra Palaces, which still reflect the representational art at the transitory stage of Islamic art.

Abstract arabesque continued in Samarraa in the forms pertaining to the Sassanid art, then it transferred to the Seljuk art, and then to the Fatimid and Ayyubid until it became more independent. Under the Mamluke and Ottman eras, there emerged pottery pictures at the hands of the artist Gharbi and his school in Damascus and Cairo or at the hands of teachers of this art in Kutahia and Iznik. These teachers filled Istanbul’s palaces walls and saints’ domes with coloured masterpieces which showed pomegranate flowers, iris and roses. Then this art was transferred to Damascus. Long-standing monuments still buzz with the Damascus tiles masterpieces (12)

F/2- In addition to floral and geometrical ornaments, there were beautiful inscriptions of Qu‘ranic verses or poems [such as Al-Busiri’s ‘Al-Burda or ‘Dikrayat Ata’asis’ (Foundation Memories)], which were artistic signs that enriched Islamic architecture inside and outside buildings. These masterpieces were the brain child of calligraphers who mastered the creation of wonderful types of Arab calligraphy such as Athuluth and ‘Al Kufi’. Among these calligraphers we cite Al-Mustaasimi, Hamed Allah Al-Amassi, Al-Hafid Othman, Ismaïl Haqqi, Raqim, Sami, Ressa, Abdul Aziz Rifa’i and Zuhdi who engraved Qu’ranic verses on the walls of the Holy Mosque in Medina. Chafiq Beg skilled in ‘Al Mutana’ calligraphy, which he engraved on the walls of Ulu çami in  Bursa. In the modern age, in Lahore (Pakistan), the calligrapher and painter Sadekine developed Arab calligraphy and made of it a dramatic  picture which he transferred onto the walls of modern Islamic buildings and the  Lahore Museum. The most important types of Arabic calligraphy are ‘Al Kufi’, Qalam Thuluth, Raq’i, Naskhi, Persian Ta’liq, Dywani, and the Maghribi. Calligraphers excelled in calligraphy figures which clearly reflected their genius and the suitability of Arabic calligraphy to plastic art. It is this that has prompted contemporary artists to  make use of Arabic calligraphy in  the design of modern paintings and to modernise the Arabesque and reformulate it in accordance with modern art specifications (13).

G/ Belonging and Creativity

G/1- Architects in the world have fallen back on authentic architectural traditions, reconsidering them in the light of the circumstances and conditions of  the  age. They were able to design an authentic architecture which was not devoid of creativity though. Architects in the Arab countries have begun to achieve this objective of authenticity and creativity. Likewise, during the competitions organised by the Agha Khan Prize and the Arab Organisation for Cities and the King Fahd Prize, arbitration panels have discovered the talents of many architects who achieved this hard move from heritage to modernity. It is important to analyse the factors that contributed to the success of these architects in their excellent  “authenticity projects.”

G/2- The first element of authenticity is to get intimately acquainted with the characteristics of traditional architecture, the greatest form of heritage that comprises many other forms. The most outstanding feature of traditional architecture as has been previously mentioned is ‘Al-Jiwania’ (the principle of enclosing all the installations inside the house); this means that Islamic architecture is independent from the exterior and withdrawn upon its interior. The inhabitants of the house live all the architectural elements such as the open spaces, the inscriptions, and the ornaments. These elements may not be seen from outside. The architect is not responsible for organising, developing, and ornamenting the city, the streets and the places. But he is in charge of organising and ornamenting the house which shall functionally serve its owner and occupant.

This reality is clearly displayed in public buildings, especially the first mosques, which were enclosed by high walls with normal doors. There were no other elements attached to the exterior but there were elements linked to the sky such as the open courtyard, the minaret and the dome. The minaret stands for sublimation and the wish to penetrate into the secrets of the outer space. The dome stands for the sky’s dome.

It is this exterior view of the mosque displayed by the dome, the minaret, and the building block that help form the perspective of the city and reinforce its identity.

G/3- The second reality of Islamic architecture is the human scale. The main objective of architecture is to ensure the privacy and confidence of the occupant of this architecture, be he public or private. The basic agents are human beings, their needs and ambitions. Thus, all the stages of architecture depend on these factors. Architecture has accompanied human beings in all these stages. Human beings need a secure, safe and quiet place to live in. Thus, man sets up for himself a room with windows to procure joy and provide a scene away from the curiosity of others, from noise and from pollution. His house contains a courtyard surrounded by other rooms. This courtyard has become his paradise including trees, basil, roses as well as water lakes. The house also requires a shady place where the dwellers of the house could gather to enjoy the scenery of this wonderful paradise. Then, the Iwan was created. The soffits of the arches, the doors as well as the walls were also decorated and ornamented. These ornaments aim at emphasising the meaning of architecture on the one hand and preserving the memories of the beautiful scenery and the ornaments which are engraved on manuscripts and objects on the other hand.

G/4- The human dimension in Islamic architecture manifests itself in striking a climatic  balance or what is known as air conditioning not by adding equipment but by giving close attention to the architectural structure. The architect must in the first place be concerned about ‘insulation’ i.e. the cushioning or the staving off  of such external climate effects from the house as the wind, heat and  pollutants. Most Islamic cities have got a continental weather with strong wind and dust. To protect the buildings from this weather the following conditions had to be met :

1- Increasing the thickness of walls to achieve insulation and using clay and wood, which are materials that by nature insulate;

2- Raising the height of rooms and halls so that pure air should not be short of oxygen and not affected by air pollutants.

3- Raising the room’s floor in the first storey above the level of the courtyard’s floor so that the exterior air would not leak inside the house carrying with it heat and polluted dust.

4- Taking care of the interior courtyard which retains pure and mild air and serves as a barrier to prevent the upper air from entering into the house. This courtyard is like an impervious container with no lower exits that facilitate the flow of air. However, no matter how strong the exterior air is, it hovers around the courtyard and leaves carrying with it heat, dust and pollutants.

The ‘Badghir’ system, traces of which are still apparent in most Islamic premises, is the best means of controlling and taking advantage of the exterior air and of the air ‘Malqaf’’, which have organically entered into the design of Islamic architecture, and which were and still are the most efficient means of achieving natural air conditioning.

G/5- The rapid transformation in contemporary civilisations has made it difficult for  traditional architecture to adapt. The automobile has become  an important factor in the organisation of the city and its streets. Architecture had to follow modern civilisation which had divided the city into specific parts and imposed upon them conditions related to easements, height and facades. Then, an architecture homogenous with the city and guided by geometrical laws more than by human dimension appeared. Thermal, electrical and electronic discoveries came forth. Factories competed to find solutions to modern architecture which had lost natural air-conditioning, the interior scenery, and the limited height of less than two floors. Human beings have also become servants of the supremacy of the new technical means which have undoubtedly helped them achieve rest and stability. But they did not realise the need to liberate the house and the building from the dominance of these means, to take advantage of them within minimum required limits, and to go back to the natural means that traditional architecture, which had organically merged with these means, had provided.

G/6- Modern architectural awakening is based on two fundamental principles :

1- It adopts traditional architectural features, especially the centrality of the  human standard.

2- It takes advantage of the new techniques within the limits of the human standard itself.

H/ Modern Islamic Architecture Applications : Presentation and Analysis

H/1- Perhaps the first person to draw attention to modernity in architecture was Ali Basha Mubarak (in his book Al-Khutat-Atawfiqia) who was taken aback by the tendency of architectural practices to adopt a Western style, especially since the Mohamed Ali era (1801-1840) and the calls for the revolution of modernity. It was the architect Hassan Fathi, however, who commenced the revolution of authenticity and modernity in practice and not in theory. His approach  was that of the poor who are instinctively aware of their basic housing needs, who evaluate the condition of their house, and who construct them with wisdom and creativity. They require no engineering, no theories, and no complex means. They even built domes, arches and lintels without using moulds. They only use the thread by means of which they take measurements, determine diameters, design and delimit the plumb. Hassan Fathi says : “The inhabitants of a region are the most to realise their environmental requirements and  the means of adapting architecture to their social and health features. They inherited this architectural awareness and thus they are themselves an original reference.” He also says :

“The clay from which brick is made stands time and is the best construction material. Moreover, it makes  the house simple, beautiful, protected and less costly”. The project of the construction of the ” Gourna ” village on the west bank of the Nile River in front of Luxor is a well-known story. Actually, it became a popular issue which was tackled in a movie. The architectural details of Gourna were mentioned in Fathi’s famous book published in various languages under the title Building for the Poor. In this project, Hassan Fathi put to practice his thoughts which served as the ground for his work, made his success a worldly renown, and earned him great prizes.

H/2- Hassan Fathi transferred the Egyptian farmers’ construction traditions outside Egypt. His motto in work has always been that “authenticity lies in the simple principles and not in the scientist’s mathematics”. He went to New Mexico in America accompanied by two construction professionals from Noba in Egypt so as to undertake the construction of a medium-sized mosque out of bricks and a school out of stones, both of which constitute part of the architecture of Gourna.

H/3- It is necessary to consider for a while the Rayhan house in Kuwait built on a wide surface (1850 m_). It comprises three open courtyards and a courtyard covered by a wooden dome. It is constituted of one floor with different rooms. Hassan Fathi used in this building available materials (mud bricks). To cover the building’s parts he used domes, small vaults using columns springers and retaining wall and junctions. In the facades of the building, there are square and rectangular windows and treillis. Seen from outside, the house looks simple, yet its outside link appears through its superior body which draws in the open space an authentic form thanks to the inclination of domes and tour cubes, the aeriation towers and to the lanterneau that overtops the reception room.

H/4- The house is constituted of two parts : the part of reception and that of living. It is endowed with all types of modern comfortable equipment. Yet, its ornaments are either architectural, inspired from the local architectural environment, or plastic and appear in the coverage of windows, treillis and ceiling, particularly the ceiling of the reception room.

H/5- We can say that Abdel wahed Alwakil, the young Egyptian architect (1943/0) is one of the most devoted disciples of Hassan Fathi. He says: ” All the artists and architects that succeeded have tasted the ancient art and have been influenced by it. They did not neglect history”. He acknowledges that traditional Islamic architecture was changing due to political and environmental conditions. But change does not necessarily mean progress. The change that has nowadays affected Arabo-Islamic architecture is a blatant imitation of the foreigner, under the pretext of integration into the world architectural order. The latter, however, aspires to the propagation of utilitarianism. Consequently, sudden wealth leads people to be allured by all that is new and ungoverned by traditional principles, which makes way for the loss of identity. It is incumbent upon us, therefore, to stir the feelings of commitment and belonging to our traditional art of architecture.

H/6- Al Wakil was awarded the Agha Khan prize in 1980 for his design of Al Ajami house in Cairo. Like his teacher Hassan Fathi, he contributed to the development of the tourist village in Egypt in 1972. His adherence to the principles of Hassan Fathi is very clear in the design he carried out in the new Jeddah area to build the Sulayman Palace. The latter reminds us of  the Rayhan Palace in Kuwait as well as of the Hamdi house in Giza in Egypt.

H/7- The mosque he built in the Jeddah cornice is characterised by simplicity, the elegance of lines and by independence. It looks like a mosque set up in an oasis or in a small village. It even looks like a mass sculpture scattered–along with the expensive statues that decorate the cornice upon the recommendation of the valued architect, Mohamed Said Farissi, who received the Arab league Prize for having restored the old quarters of Jeddah–at a point of Jeddah’s cornice.

H/8- The contribution of Muslim architects to adapting Islamic architecture to modernity seems vital and of great importance. It is necessary that they should meet with their Arab colleagues in order to exchange opinions. One of these architects is Culzar Hayder, an architect of Pakistani origin and who lives in Ottawa (Canada) and teaches at Carlton University. He is an expert and a member of Research Center for Islamic History, Art and Culture in Istanbul. (IRCICA)

H/9- The masterpiece of Culzar Hayder is his design of a religious complex in 1982 in Plain Field, Indiana. This complex is comprised of a mosque for 500 praying persons, a research library containing 100 thousand volumes, an administrative department, an educational department with an amphitheatre, dormitories for 500 students for a limited period as well as stadiums and clubs. It is regretted that the mosque, built on a square surface divided into a sanctuary (Harem) and a courtyard, topped by a not too high minaret on its western part, and the  headquarters of the association, were the only premises to be built of this complex.

H/10- Hayder had also designed a Saudi-financed mosque which was built in the University of Arkansas. This mosque was finished in 1984. It is a premise made of up of a group of cubic structures. Its exterior walls are horizontally decorated with two colours within stripes. It is topped by a minaret squared up to its veranda. The octagonal minaret carries a ‘Pinacle’ made up of cement. It is a simple and striped minaret . The Sanctuary is topped by Qur’anic inscriptions on the exterior side. Annexed to the mosque are an opening for light at the entrance courtyard, an interior  with a mihrab, and a flat ceiling without a dome.

H/11- The importance of this mosque lies in its attachment to Islamic architectural traditions and in its serious attempt to achieve harmony with the urban character of the city. Setting up a mosque or an Islamic building that is harmonious with the neighbouring architectural environment in a culturally strange context is no easy task for architects. Hayder had also designed another masterpiece, namely the Islamic Association Centre for North America (The House of Islam). This building displays the synthesis between the concept of Islamic architectural authenticity and the Western concept of post-modernity.

H/12- In Islamabad, the new capital of  Pakistan, the Great Mosque was built in 1988 and was named ‘King Faysal Mosque’ after the person who financed it. The design of this mosque was devised by the young architect Widad Dalokapi of Turkey, who got his inspiration from the shape of a tent when he designed the structure of the mosque. He also borrowed the idea of the four minarets from the Ottoman minaret. This building does not depend on supports or props. The ceiling of the Sancturary is self-propped and supported by the four minarets which look  like the pegs of a tent. Inside the wide mosque (4900 square meter) are a mihrab in the form of a book and a minbar, both made of marble. The wall of the Qibla was covered by modern Iznik tiles. The mihrab and the minbar were designed by the Pakistani architect Ghulgi. The minarets are 90 meters high. The apparent verandas were deleted and supplanted by four interior verandas. Like the minarets of Istanbul, the base of this minaret is conic. These minarets are topped by gold-coated lustre ‘Jamurs’. The ‘Jamur’ of the Sanctuary weighs 6 tons and a half. An Islamic Sciences University, comprised of various faculties and a big library, is annexed to the Great Mosque. It appears from the details of this arresting architecture that this building has borrowed its style and  the way it is constructed from the tent and its pegs and not from traditional architecture. This is a daring and a unique attempt of bringing modern Islamic architecture back to its original roots.

H/13- The building of the Palace of Culture in Algiers is an outstanding architectural milestone which clearly exhibits authenticity. This building won the Architectural Project Prize in 1988 that is awarded each year by the Arab Organisation of Cities. The report of the arbitration committee contained the following comment: “The designer of this building succeeded in choosing interconnected geometrical measurements either with relation to the strict interior details or with relation to the dimension of the architectural structure with its main parts. All the parts become integrated and connected through a good ocular geometry, which gave birth to that premise. The latter has connected the golden stages of Arab past with the modern history of Algeria “.

H/14- This building is a great complex set up on an a hill in Algiers overlooking the sea. It comprises a rectangular courtyard with a lake in the middle and surrounded on its floor level by an archway carried on Andalusian arches with crowned columns. This emulates the Andalusian architecture in Alzahra city and Alhambra palaces. This traditional form of architecture repeats itself here after it was relegated to the backburner upon the rise of the colonial style during the French colonisation.

H/15- The aim of King Fahd’s Award for Design and Research in the Field of Islamic Architecture, granted by the International Committee for Islamic Civilisational Heritage Preservation, has in a way been achieved. This aim consists in encouraging the discovery of the features of Islamic architectural creativity, drawing inspiration from them and establishing dialogue between architects with a view to highlighting the spirit of this architecture. This way, the basis for the architecture of the future, which expresses Islamic social practices and serves as a bridge between the past and the future, would be laid down. It looks from the works competing for the prize that this aim haunts a number of architects throughout the world, in Europe, in America and in Asia. The project presented by the young Chinese architect Dan Zhou in the form of a residential unit in the city of Sheshuan attracts attention. He designed a closed cubic building without additions nor ornaments. It has got a simple entrance leading to a hall reaching the rooms in the ground floor. A wooden stair in the courtyard which opens on the sky leads to halls surrounding bedrooms on the top floor. This building is characterised by simplicity and wall ornamentation and achieves the two main required conditions, namely the human aspect and the required means of the modern city. He shunned distinction between Islamic and Chinese styles. Thus, the facades of this building appear neutral. This is the type of building for the person seeking to be independent in his universe, keeping to himself his feelings, traditions, aspirations and independence from the civilisationally and architecturally peculiar external world.

I/ Awards for Modernization, Authenticity and Theoretical Studies

I/1- Architects’ response to the objectives of the Islamic architectural awards encourage us to say that the path to a modern and prospective Islamic architecture is paved and clear. The problem is that these creative designs and projects always require theoretical studies. National Organisations and their periodicals may fill this gap. King Fahd Prizes include a special prize for research conducted on  Islamic architecture. This prize is basically awarded for academic research carried out by young specialists and architects.

I/2- Some architects are trying to deepen their theoretical research with the aim of supporting their applied architectural doctrine. Among these we cite Badi’ al-Abid from Jordan and Rasem Badran from Palestine. The International Committee laid down the following general standards for the evaluation of architectural designs :

– Buildings and their interaction with the environment;

– Architecture as an expression of Islamic social requirements, a support of Islamic life style and a bridge between tradition and the future.

I/3- The Iraqi architect Refa’t Al-Jadergi reinforced his architectural works with a critical thought, which manifested itself in a number of writings, especially the book entitled  Concepts and Influences: Towards an International Architecture with a Regional Basis. For him, modern architectural history can be enriched by a regional focus on traditional architecture. He also believes that “architecture is the outcome of a dialectical interaction. There is no equality between regional specificity and borrowing from the past. Each age has got its techniques, its expressions, and its special aesthetic values. Moreover, the escape to the past can lead only to stumbling on the road of progress”. Al-Jadergi emphasises an important point, namely that international architecture can only flourish if it gives a chance to the regional dimension.

I/4- Architectural awards played a big part in bringing creative capabilities to the fore. The latter seek the best in the field of creating an Islamic architecture suitable to this age and of training devoted architects and deepening their understanding of modern but authentic architectural features. It must be admitted that arbitration committees play an important part in laying the foundations on which architecture can stand in our age. Juries, made up of architects, art historians, sociologists and archaeologists, can set strict criteria for a successful work and impose scientific conditions for the achievement of architectural authenticity. Clearly, the certifications of success that these awards and competitions grant to modern Islamic architecture will remain a model for those studying Islamic architecture and will enter the history of this architecture from its widest doors of science and practice.

I/5- The deduction of the criteria on which arbitration committees based their decisions when  awarding these prizes give us an insight into the philosophy of modern Islamic architecture.

Firstly, the subject of architecture should bear on architectural art and not on ornamentation or sculpture, as was the case in Granada and in some mosques and palaces. An example of this is the building of the National Council in Dakka, the capital of Bangladesh. In spite of the fact  that Louis Cahen is internationally famous, he did present through this building a wonderful model of architectural sculpture, but he did not design a model of pure architecture.

I/6- Secondly, the architectural work should be related to the society in which it is built i.e. whether the environment is rural or urban, rich or poor, something that Hassan Fathi did with the city he designed.

I/7- Thirdly, this architecture should be connected to history and geography. It is not reasonable to construct a building of a Mamluk or Ottoman style in China, or establish a cigarette factory in Germany and draw inspiration from it when building Egyptian or Ottoman mosques. But it is acceptable that the Newted Mosque be set up in Peking, because of its strong belonging to China’s history and geography, although Islamic cultural aesthetics could be  felt in the Abtelika Mosque in Kashi (China).

Fourthly, modern Islamic architecture should be in tune with the existing civilisation and the popular architectural style. This is what is known as ‘architecture at home’.

However, we need to set up a modern Islamic architecture even in different civilisational milieus where Muslims live or have emigrated to (like Europe and America). This ‘emigrating’ architecture requires special care that can defuse the tension ensuing from the difference of architectural identities. An example of this is the multiplicity of architectural identities in the diplomatic district in Riyadh. Architects reduced this pluralism by creating a space for orchards and by setting up large complexes built in a local Arab style. Thus the features of the district were unified, although this unity resembles that of museums containing exhibitory styles of modern world architecture.

It must be reminded that the reconciliation between host and guest forms of architecture was the subject of the designs that competed for King Fahd Prize for Design and Research in the session of 1985-1986.

I/8- Fifthly, modern architectural creativity should be understood in terms of Islamic aesthetics. It is not conditional that it repeats traditional elements, save when this is historically or culturally necessary. Mosques that were set up in Koala Lumpur, Brunei and Sabah Sultanate broke with Indian and Chinese traditions. But they were not related to Islamic aesthetics.

I/9- The sixth point  is to guard against slipping into dependency on the West. This is an important condition, especially after the principles of post-modernist school have become clearer and clearer and after international architects belonging to this school have contributed to the design of Islamic buildings. We warn against following this trend for fear of returning to dependency and of losing Islamic architectural identity once again. This trend is clearly shown in the architecture of the National Council in Dakka which manifestly belongs to the post-modernist school and is incompatible with local authenticity.

I/10- It is very easy to slip towards post-modernity given that authenticity and post-modernity oppose modernism’s tendency to abstraction and to revolt against non-authenticity.  Post-modernity brings the Western architect back to his history and heritage as manifested in the Roman, Gothic, Baroque, Victorian and Classicist arts, etc. It is not possible to follow this trend, but we understand authenticity through the unity of architectural identity and pluralism; a view we share with the post-modernist school. But, Islamic architectural identity should never be taken for European or Christian architectural identity (15)

I/11- These primary conditions that must be taken into account by the juries and incorporated into modern Islamic architecture are clearly visible in many public and private buildings in Arab and Islamic countries. An example of buildings designed by national or foreign architects is the Foreign Ministry building in Riyadh which deserved the Agha Khan award it won in 1985. The master mind behind this architecture was the architect Henning Larsen. This architecture lays the ground for future Saudi architecture because it is connected to local architectural traditions, which are purely Islamic, and responded to climate conditions, to  the question of functionality, and the civilisational environment. It expressed the seriousness and greatness of architecture inasmuch as it is the headquarters of the Foreign Ministry and a place that foreigners and diplomatic representatives, who generally prefer to be immersed  in an authentic cultural, social and architectural environment, regularly visit. This building with its Islamic civilisational perspective entered the world of creativity from its modern gates. It made use of many Islamic architectural elements without this being repeated or copied.

I/12- Numerous buildings that were designed by non-Muslim architects were successful because they were based on sound foundations. This leads me to say that there is an orientalist school in modern architecture that should be studied and given its due importance in our specialised  institutes-these very institutes which suffer from a lack of data that could be instrumental in highlighting Islamic features in the new architectural science and in modern training curricula.

I/13- The Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca is nowadays considered the most modern and authentically Islamic architecture; it is also the biggest in terms of surface, which exceeds that of any other mosque. Moreover, this mosque is built deliberately on an elevation and in such a way as to defy the sea and settle gloriously over it. It is topped by a minaret staring to the clouds and dominating the city of Casablanca, a modern city proud of this most arresting Islamic building. The memories of Moroccan mosques built by Al-Moravides and Al-Mmohads, who made a great contribution to the glories of Islamic architecture, are still present in the minarets of the mosques of Seville, Kutubya and Hassan. The minaret of the Hassan II Mosque is  the fourth in the history of Moroccan long-standing monuments, although it exceeds the others in height and shape. It is set up on a surface of 625 square meter and is 200 m high. This huge architectural premise stretches over a surface of 9 hectares. It is composed of a mosque and a school on one side and of a library and a museum on the other side, all in a cohesive architectural unity reflecting  all the features of Moroccan architecture and ornamentation still flourishing up to now. Moroccan arts remain popular thanks to skilled artists who practise ornamentation by faience, i.e. ceramics with geometrical shapes and inscriptions, and by marble, wooden and plaster ornamentation. This edifice incorporates all traditional creativeness as well as modern additions, especially as regards shapes and techniques. It is not a literal reproduction of traditional architectural edifices. But, it has preserved the traditions of Moroccan architecture and arts to a great extent and expressed a rebirth of these arts and their challenge to European Western types existing in galore in a city having a tourist and commercial vocation. For space constraints, we cannot talk about the new techniques added to this edifice, namely the use of laser to point to the Qibla, the pliable ceiling  of the mosque and the setting up of pillars which stand against shakes, waves and corrosion due to water. All of these additions were carried out by Michel Panceau, the designer of the building. The most important features of the Mosque, though, are the ornamental masterpieces carried out by Moroccan masons.


9 تعليقات

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